Mummified dinosaur coming to Houston

September 29, 2008 12:18:48 PM PDT
Montana's mummified dinosaur, Leonardo, will star in a year-long exhibition at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The Houston museum plans an elaborate display featuring Leonardo, the most perfectly fossilized plant-eating dinosaur ever discovered --with almost all of his skin still intact. Dinosaur Mummy CSI: Cretaceous Science Investigation opens Sept. 19, 2008.

Leonardo was found on a ranch north of Malta, Montana, in 2000. The 77 million-year-old duckbill is considered the world's best-preserved dinosaur.

"Leonardo's discovery was groundbreaking for the world of paleontology because it provided extensive detail regarding what plant-eating dinosaurs actually ate ? details that could only be theorized before," said Joel A. Bartsch, president of the Houston Museum of Natural Science. "We're thrilled to present Leonardo to the public for the first time at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, where they can get up close and personal with the real Leonardo, the best preserved, plant-eating dinosaur mummy fossil ever discovered."

While mummified dinosaurs aren't new, Leonardo is special as 90 percent of his body is covered with fossilized skin, and his X-rays revealed the first evidence of dinosaur organs.

Following its premiere in Houston, the exhibition will tour nationally, with a replica of Leonardo; the real Leonardo will only be on display in Houston. The tour schedule will be announced at a later date.

Who is Leonardo?
Leonardo is a 77 million-year-old adult duckbilled dinosaur, known scientifically as Brachylophosaurus canadensis. His remains are 90 percent covered with fossilized skin, on which the pattern of his body scales are evident. The term "mummy" is used in reference to Leonardo to denote the fact that much of the dinosaur's soft tissue, such as its skin and internal organs, appear to have been fossilized as well, along with the bones.

What makes Leonardo even more extraordinary is that he has given scientists a rare peek "inside" a dinosaur. With modern technology, scientists have analyzed Leonardo using a forensic approach to studying this fossil?and the site where it was found?to determine how he may have lived and died. Using this method, the dinosaur is the "victim," and the scientist has to figure out how it was killed, and by whom. Additional discoveries, such as stomach contents, provide a more complete picture of the ecosystem in which the dinosaur lived ? as indicated by the type of plants it ate.

Using this method, evidence of what dinosaurs looked like, what they ate, their muscle mass, limb movement, and more, has been discovered through collaboration between the NDT Group, Carestream Health's Kodak Non-Destructive Testing team and ConAm of Houston's analysis of the specimen. Before this extreme digital technology was applied to this astonishing specimen, paleontologists could only guess at the true structure and function of a dinosaur of this magnitude.

Along with this premiere exhibition, new research is being done to further explore this amazing fossilized dinosaur. Prior to the fossil's arrival at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, a special team comprised of some of the top paleontology researchers in the world conducted an intensive radiological scanning of Leonardo at NASA Johnson Space Center's Ellington Field facility. The data is currently being compiled and analyzed, and will be released at a later date.

"Meeting Leonardo is a very moving, intimate experience," said Dr. Robert T. Bakker, famed paleontologist and curator of paleontology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Dr. Bakker was one of the first scientists to work on Leonardo, beginning in 2002. "Visitors will see every wrinkle and scale popping in the light, and then discover the internal organs of a creature that's been dead for millions of years. They will leave convinced that these animals were very much alive."

Discovered by members of an exploration team in the summer of 2000 during the Judith River Foundation's Expedition on a cattle ranch north of Malta, Montana, Leonardo was named after graffiti found on a nearby rock that read: "Leonard Webb loves Geneva Jordan 1916."

The Exhibition
In addition to Leonardo, the exhibition will feature several other real specimens including another duckbill named Peanut?a teenager that will illustrate their species' body structure; an Ichthyosaur mummy, which has contents of her intestines and four babies preserved inside her body; and the only mummified Triceratops skin ever found, which will also be on display for the first time.

Throughout the exhibition, explore the history of the discovery of some of the world's most unique and amazing fossils. Learn more about the fossil-hunting Sternberg family, who discovered the first examples of large mummified dinosaurs over 100 years ago, plus more.

The world premiere of Dinosaur Mummy CSI: Cretaceous Science Investigation is scheduled for Sept. 19, 2008 through Sept. 7, 2009 at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Tickets for the special exhibition are now on sale; $15 for adults; $12 for children (3 ? 11), $10 for seniors (62+), and college students with a valid ID; $8 Museum members; $5 school groups; and $9 for groups of 20 or more. For tickets, or more information, visit www.hmns.org or call 713-639-4629.


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